Dubai: The UAE is aiming to become the global hub for rain enhancement that will improve water security in arid and semi-arid areas around the world, according to Alya Al Mazrouei, programme director of the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science
Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the 23rd Water, Energy, Technology, and Environment Exhibition (WETEX) and Dubai Solar Show at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday, Al Mazrouei said the UAE was “playing a leading role in rain enhancement as it pushes the boundaries in science, research and innovation”.
She said: “We are tackling the water scarcity issue with innovation and sustainable solutions. What we aim is to become the global hub in rain enhancement. That is why we are aggressively pushing for more international research and collaboration as well as sharing of information and knowledge transfer,” she underlined.
Energy-efficient water security
Al Mazrouei said the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science is designed to improve water security in arid and semi-arid areas around the world. “Rain enhancement, or what is more popularly known as ‘cloud seeding’, is a viable and cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies in arid and semi-arid regions,” noted Al Mazrouei, adding: “Rain enhancement has also been actively pursued by other countries and technology has shown positive results in extracting more rain from the clouds.”
In the UAE, rain enhancement operations are focused on the mountainous areas in the northeast of the country, where cumulus clouds gather in the summer.
Al Mazrouei underlined no harmful chemicals are used in UAE cloud seeding operations as specialised aircraft only use natural salts to enhance rainfall.
The scientific, UAE cloud-seeding programme started in the 1990s. By early 2001, the UAE began collaborations with international organisations such as the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, United States, the Witwatersrand University in South Africa and the US Space Agency or Nasa.
Currently, the UAE has more than 60 networked weather stations, a weather radar network and six aircraft for cloud-seeding operations.
Sufian Farah, meteorologist and cloud expert at National Centre of Meteorology (NCM), said a total of 390 cloud-seeding missions were conducted in the UAE last year. “During summer — from middle of July to middle of September 2020 — we did cloud seeding at least four times a week. We use only natural salts or hydroscopic agents that are shot into clouds to enhance rainfall,” he told Gulf News.
Farah said the success rate in enhancing rainfall is about 10-15 per cent when there is turbid atmosphere and it goes up to 25 per cent when the atmosphere is clear.
How cloud seeding is done?
Farha explained the first step for cloud seeding is analysing the cloud formation. The NCM collects weather data to find conducive clouds for cloud seeding.
Once conducive clouds are found, the NCM deploys aircraft (from Al Ain airport) carrying salt crystals — mixed with magnesium, sodium chloride and potassium chloride — which are then ‘seeded’ into clouds. The natural salts or hydroscopic agents then turn the clouds heavy and enhance rainfall.
Currently, NCM is also conducting tests to see whether electricity can be used during cloud-seeding operations to enhance rainfall over the country and mitigate water stress in arid regions.
The NCM said: “The UAE is eager to share its experience in rain enhancement and to foster a spirit of international knowledge transfer and cooperative development in the science of precipitation. Through such active support for research and development innovation, we are strengthening water sustainability.”